Gen LaGreca - To Savor Freedom
Gen LaGreca is the award-winning author of several Amazon bestsellers that were all written in different genres - or so it seems. Her first book might be a contemporary medical thriller, the second a murder mystery set in the Old South and the third a sci-fi thriller, but they all share similar themes such as freedom, individuality and being ahead of your time. As our author of the day, LaGreca talks about what she calls the "Gen-genre", reveals her writing habits and chats about why she likes to let her books stew a bit before publishing.
Please give us a short introduction to what Fugitive from Asteron is about
The story begins on Planet Asteron, which is a grim world of tyranny controlled by a despot named Feran. The Asteronian people are on the verge of starvation, and the only thing in abundance is misery.
One young man named Arial is a pilot on Asteron. He struggles to have a real life for himself in an environment completely hostile to that. In a place where the life of the individual is suppressed and where everything he does is controlled by a ruler, Arial tries to pursue his own interests and take his own direction. He loves flying, and although people’s work is assigned to them by the leaders and Arial’s assignment did not involve flying, he managed to skewer the records so that he became a pilot in the military. He yearns to travel to other worlds and is fascinated by the stars he sees in the Asteronian sky, wondering if a better world exists out there. He’s curious about everything, but there’s little opportunity to learn the answers.
On Asteron, mates are assigned to people. Romance and love have been taken out of sex, and there is no intimate family life to speak of, just communal life. In that setting Arial falls in love with someone of his choice, the beautiful Reevah, who’s a rebel like himself, with a proud attitude and a defiance and scorn for their rulers. He secretly meets her in the dead of night, and their encounters are the high point of his life.
So, in this bleak world, Arial has two things that he cares about: flying and Reevah. Then he loses them both. One day Reevah disappears. She no longer meets him in their secret place, and he doesn’t know what happened to her. (He finds out in a shocking scene.) Then as a military pilot, he’s ordered to drop bombs on a village that’s in revolt. He can’t do it. When he fails in his assigned mission, he’s stripped of his pilot’s job, beaten, and thrown in jail for sedition. He’s sentence to an unbearable future. That’s when he decides to escape from Asteron—or to die trying. He knows that Feran is about to embark on a secret mission of great importance, so Arial devises a scheme to escape from his cell, steal Feran’s spacecraft, and take off. Against all odds, he succeeds.
There’s a mysterious cargo onboard the spaceship that Arial has stolen. It’s a seemingly impenetrable metal box like nothing he’s seen before, which Feran was taking with him on his mission.
The spaceship takes Arial on Feran’s pre-programmed course to a world completely unknown to him, an opposite world of peace and freedom—the future Planet Earth. There, humans like him live, and shockingly, are in control of their own lives and have freedoms unimaginable to him. Even more shocking, the people he meets speak his language, which he calls Asteronian but they call English. (The astonishing relationship between Earth and Asteron is revealed as the story unfolds.)
As the wounds from Arial’s past start to heal and he establishes a new life, he realizes that Feran is in hot pursuit of him and the mysterious cargo—and closer than he thinks.
Arial’s life is about to change forever—and with it, the fate of two planets.
Tell us about Arial. Who is he and what makes him so special?
He’s a 21-year-old, handsome, daring pilot, and very brave in general. He’s a rebel. He can never conform to a life of drudgery on Asteron. He can’t buckle down and obey. He gets in a lot of trouble. But he never gives up on the idea that there’s something better out there, and he wants to find it. He fights and risks his life for the things and the people he loves. He’s a great hero for teens and young adults, which makes the novel a good crossover for that audience.
When Arial arrives on Planet Earth, he’s an abused, angry, emotionally scarred young man. He meets a young woman who sees a deeper potential in him and helps him. We’re with him as he discovers his newfound freedom. He learns about many things that we’ve known all of our lives and take for granted, but that he’s experiencing for the first time as an adult. For example, he ate tasteless dried protein cakes in his starving homeland, but now he gets to try food unimaginable to him, like cheesecake, which he consumes with great enjoyment. He gets a job doing what he loves as a pilot, and amazingly he can choose his own work from innumerable other opportunities. He earns money for the first time, and buys things he wants with it. He discovers that he can date anyone he wants to and no one can stop him. But just as he’s learning what it means to be happy, he realizes that Feran and his spies are on Earth, in hot pursuit of him for the mysterious cargo. Arial, his new girlfriend, and his oasis on Earth are in danger. He needs to summon all his skills and courage to outwit his pursuers and uncover the mystery of the cargo and Feran’s mission to Earth.
You’ve written 3 novels, all in very different settings and genres. Tell us about them and why you chose to write such diverse stories.
Perhaps it’s unusual among contemporary authors, but I love to write in different genres. My first published novel, Noble Vision, is a contemporary medical thriller set in New York City. My second novel, A Dream of Daring, is a murder mystery set in the Old South. And now my third novel, Fugitive From Asteron, is a sci-fi adventure, set on two planets in the future. I find that these different contexts and settings are a fascinating canvas on which to paint my stories.
Noble Vision is the story of a young neurosurgeon with a new cure for nerve injury and an injured ballerina who needs the treatment as her only hope, but the doctor’s efforts to help her are thwarted by bureaucratic red tape. When I did my research, I got to be in the OR and see surgery performed, to interview neurosurgeons and work out the plot, to read books and journal articles on neurosurgery, to learn about the political controversies that doctors and patients can face, and to learn about the life and career of a ballerina. It was all fascinating.
My second novel, A Dream of Daring, takes place in Louisiana in 1859. It exposed me to a completely different world from anything I had known. The story is about a young inventor who develops the precursor of the tractor and foresees the new age of mechanized farming that will replace slavery. This puts him in intense conflict with the planters of his town, who want to keep their world of slave farming intact. Tensions mount, and his invention is stolen and someone dear to him is murdered. In my research for that novel, I got to tour and stay at historical Louisiana plantations, go to many museums and historical collections, learn about cotton farming, the history of the internal combustion engine, and many other things. In a special archives collection, I held in my white-gloved hands the plantation journals from cotton planters who actually lived in the 1850s in Louisiana. It was exciting to journey back in time a century-and-a-half through their handwritten accounts.
Then for Fugitive From Asteron, I got to use my imagination and create my own world, or 2 worlds to be exact. The main character is a pilot, and there are daredevil flying scenes in this novel, so I got to study aerobatics and fighter planes. I also got to learn about space travel and about certain scientific issues involved in creating the “mysterious cargo” in the novel. All of that fascinated me.
Although my 3 novels might seem very different because of their diverse settings, I think that on a deeper level they’re all similar. I call it the Gen-genre. First, all 3 novels are thematically related; they all involve characters who think outside the box, are struggling to achieve their freedom and individuality, and they’re ahead of their times and the societies they’re living in. Second, all 3 novels involve a scientific invention or discovery of some kind. I have an undergraduate degree in chemistry and worked early in my career as a pharmaceutical chemist, so the breakthrough medical discovery in Noble Vision, the prototype tractor in A Dream of Daring, and the mysterious cargo in Fugitive From Asteron (which involves a surprising scientific discovery) all appeal to me. Third, all 3 novels have strong romance—love triangles and conflicts that are interwoven in the plots. Those similarities in my approach explain why novels set in the past, present, and future feel as if they came from the same heart and soul.
Fugitive from Asteron is actually your first work of fiction. Why did you decide to only publish it now?
I started writing Noble Vision first, but I got about two-thirds of the way through it and found I couldn’t finish it. Noble Vision was a hard project for a first novel. It has more subplots, and deeper characterizations and conflicts than a sci-fi adventure story. I was frustrated that I couldn’t finish it. I put it aside and picked up an earlier idea, a gem of a story that I’d created and always loved, which became Fugitive From Asteron, and I was able to write that novel more easily. After having written Fugitive From Asteron, I found that I was then able to complete Noble Vision. I had grown in my skills. Then, because Noble Vision was and still is about a timely issue—healthcare—I published it first. I always intended to go back to polish and publish Fugitive From Asteron. I finally achieved that goal, but not until after I had become fascinated with another story, A Dream of Daring, and wrote and published that one. So now I’m thrilled to finally see my “firstborn” actually published.
Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve a clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with?
Yes! I love fiction’s power to dramatize ideas and to clarify important issues. This has been true throughout history, starting with ancient mythology and continuing to modern times. For example, in the 1850s, it was a novel— Uncle Tom’s Cabin—that galvanized people against slavery. During the American Revolution, when our troops were suffering great hardships at Valley Forge, George Washington turned to fiction. He had the highly influential play of his time, “Cato, A Tragedy,”—about a Roman hero of republicanism who opposed the growing tyranny of Julius Caesar—performed for his troops to motivate them to fight on. People turn to fiction for inspiration, for a refueling of their spirit. That’s why good novels are treasures.
I also love the emotional impact that fiction has, how it puts us right there in the action in an unforgettable way. For example, how do we remember Sherman’s march on Atlanta during the Civil War?—through a textbook account, or through the dramatic scene in Gone With the Wind, with Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in a teetering wagon pulled by a half-dead horse, desperately trying to escape Atlanta in the middle of Sherman’s siege, with the entire city wildly ablaze and in utter chaos?
Once I discovered fiction-writing, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do more than to write novels. The work is what I call a sweet torture.
Talk to us about your writing routine; what’s a typical writing day for you?
I write first thing in the morning and try to limit distractions. That’s when I do my best work and have the most concentration. Because it’s so hard to write a novel, it’s easy to get distracted. Your mind rebels against the hard mental work. You think about something else, like that new sweater you have to have, and there’s a temptation to go out shopping, rather sit at your desk and do the hard work. But then, when everything is flowing, and you’re really into the story and “on a roll,” the writing is exhilarating. I must say that I experience more of the former state than the latter. But then at the end, it’s so very satisfying to see the work done and the book in your hands. It’s worth the struggle.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
No, I don’t block out the work that way. The research and the outline come first. So, for months I don’t do any writing. Then once I have a really good chapter-by-chapter outline, I start writing. When the story is well thought out in advance, it saves me from having to rewrite. I’m a strong plot writer, so I subscribe to what people say about the theater: If you see a gun on the fireplace mantel in Act One, you can be sure that gun is going to go off in Act Three. I write like that. I like to drop clues early in the story, which you can be sure will all play a part later, hopefully in unexpected and surprising ways.
When I start writing, scenes will deviate somewhat from my outline, but I’ll definitely know the ending, key characters, and the essential progression of events at the outset. Yes, I do set deadlines, but the writing always takes longer than I expect.
What has your journey as an author been like? Was there ever a defining moment when you suddenly realized "now I am an author"?
Yes, there was! I worked for a while as a management consultant. One of the things I did for clients was to write and produce videos for staff training. I found that these videos were becoming more and more imagination and plot-oriented. Finally, one of my clients, the publisher of a magazine for the foodservice industry, said to me, “Gen, I can’t have romance in this video about restaurant sanitation!” That was when I thought to myself, “Hey, I ought to try writing a novel.” And so I did.
Does the book contain an underlying message? What do you hope your readers will take away from Fugitive From Asteron?
The broad message of all of my novels is that good people, who have courage and passion, and who want to live to the fullest, can fight for their world and win. I want to entertain people and leave them with hope. Although grim things happen and there are villains in my novels to be sure, my focus is on the good, on the great potential of people in the exciting adventure of life. I want to inspire and lift people up.
More specifically, the important theme in Fugitive From Asteron is the need for freedom of the individual. When we control our own lives, we can set our own values and goals, and work to achieve them. That leads to a fulfilling, happy life. When we don’t control our lives and others dictate to us what we must be and do, then we’re subjugated. We’re defined by something outside of ourselves. Freedom makes happiness possible. We have to be masters of our own lives in order to define and attain our own happiness. We see this message vividly in the adventures of Arial on the 2 planets.
On Asteron, Arial loses all his values and wants to escape, or else to die. On Earth, he’s free to choose what his life will be like. He can take a job and pick a woman of his choosing. He can have his own apartment and not have to live communally. He can come and go as he pleases, and he doesn’t have to account to guards and always fear their punishment. He finds he can experience something new to him: pleasure. The message is: We should never take freedom for granted. We should savor it, like Arial does.
Do you tend to let your books stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit? Or do you work against deadlines?
Yes, I do let them sit after I’ve written them. That gives me objectivity when I go back to edit. My big fear always is: Can anyone guess the ending? Did I plant the clues subtly enough? Did I give away something before I was ready to reveal it? I like to have a few “beta” readers to give me feedback before I publish.
Then, I’ll use a professional book editor for the final edit, and I would not go to press without a thorough professional editing. I go to the editor when I think I’ve worked out any serious problems myself first. That makes the editor’s job easier, too.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on my fourth novel, which is called Just the Truth. It’s a contemporary political thriller about the world of journalism. The story explores the question: Is truth still the ruling principle in today’s world of journalism and politics, and what are the forces working against it? In this story, a young female journalist will be the leading character.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?